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Motivational Theories

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Motivational Theories


This paper begins by presenting four theories of motivation; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory, Adams’ Equity theory and the Goal Setting theory. Each theory is briefly explained and applied to the Starbucks case after which a critique is given. A section at the end provides recommendations for job enrichment and also relational job design as methods management at Starbucks can employ to maintain an efficient and productive workforce.

Maslow’s Needs Theory

This theory states that humans are motivated by needs which are in hierarchical order from basic to higher order needs; humans address these sequentially starting with physiological, security, affiliation, esteem and topmost self-actualisation (Rollinson 2008). Maslow states that when needs are satisfied they cease to have a motivational effect on an individual (Robbins et al 2014). One view for Starbucks management would be to infer using Maslow’s theory that the job at this point has satisfied the employees’ lower level needs, as such there is a need to consider a new set of motivators related to Maslow’s affiliation and esteem needs. This could include making employees feel like a family at Starbucks, shareholding and availing clear promotion opportunities. However French et al (2011:163) state that, “a person’s frame of reference will determine the order of importance of their needs and societal culture influences that frame of reference.” Thus French et al (2011) contest the universal application of Maslow’s needs hierarchy and argue that employees from different ethnicities and cultures are not motivated by the same needs. Rollinson (2008) gives credit to Maslow nevertheless by stating that perhaps this theory’s main contribution is providing a general framework for categorising needs of different types.

Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory

Herzberg proposes two factors in his theory, hygiene factors and motivating factors. According to Herzberg the absence of hygiene factors, which include pay, job security, working conditions and interpersonal relations among others, would lead to dissatisfaction and their presence does not lead to motivation. Herzberg’s motivators include recognition, responsibility and nature of work among others, their presence would motivate but there absence leads to a neutral state of neither satisfaction or dissatisfaction (King and Lawley, 2013).

According to Herzberg’s theory, the nature of work, like being repetitive, cannot lead to demotivation or dissatisfaction. To employ this theory in the Starbucks workplace Herzberg proposes a two-stage approach (Griffin and Moorhead, 2011) as follows:

First, management should achieve a state of no dissatisfaction by addressing Herzberg’s hygiene factors, this can include among others giving an industry matching pay, improving working conditions and fostering interpersonal relations at work.

Second, once a state of dissatisfaction exists by adequately addressing the hygiene factors, employee motivation can then be achieved by introducing the motivators like more opportunities for advancement, and redesigning the job to take on more tasks and responsibilities.

In the Starbucks case therefore, assuming all hygiene factors are in place, management needs to consider motivators like clear opportunities for achievement, personal growth and promotion. They also need to consider the nature of the work and redesign the job to include more task variety and responsibility, factors that Herzberg argued motivate employees and lead to satisfaction (Griffin and Moorhead, 2011).

Perhaps the main strength of this theory is that Herzberg provided a clear way of how managers can apply it in practice using the two-stage approach above and job enrichment (Griffin and Moorhead, 2011).

Rollinson (2008), states that to test validity of this theory, it has been replicated many times and results have generally supported Herzberg’s theory though not entirely. The main area of criticism is that classifying the work features into hygiene factors and motivators can be problematic as it was noted that both factors could lead to feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction differing from person to person (Rollinson, 2008). People differ and Herzberg’s one size fits all classification does not stand in real life tests (Rollinson, 2008).

Modern society is multicultural and so is Starbucks as an employer (Starbucks, 2015 and also Adler and Gundersen, 2008). Applicability of Herzberg’s theory across different cultures differs, and so can be its applicability to people from different cultures yet within the same organisation (Adler and Gundersen, 2008; Rollinson 2008 and also Gambrel and Cianci 2003). Therefore, in this regard, due diligence needs to be taken as to how this theory can be applied to people from different cultures.

While Herzberg’s theory discounts the possibility of Starbucks staff being demotivated by repetitive tasks, the finding of the Starbucks manager might be accurate and for this reason other theories of motivation need to be considered for a solution to this problem.

Equity Theory

The psychologist Stacy Adams postulated that the primary motivating force for employees is striving for equity or fairness. The theory’s starting point is an exchange where an employee gives something, like skills and labour (inputs) and gets something for it like pay and recognition (outputs). The pivotal point of the theory being a reference person or group which the person uses to evaluate one’s own inputs/outputs balance (Miner, 2005). Inequity or dissatisfaction sets in where one notes a disparity with their reference other. Informing the Starbucks manager from Adams’ standpoint calls for a review of dissatisfied employees’ job specification and also the jobs of those these employees can use as referent others. Further Starbucks job designs need to be benchmarked alongside competitors’ like Costa coffee. To maintain an efficient and productive workforce as informed by the equity theory requires Starbucks management to offer the best remuneration package compared to the industry average. Another key factor to be considered when employing this theory is for management to make the employees aware of the basis on which the remuneration package is structured. This will help inform the employees when they make comparison as they understand the basis of their input/output balance.

Adams theory is highly regarded for its simplicity and standing up to the rigours of empirical tests, Rollinson (2008) states that tests have generally supported Adams’ propositions in the Equity theory and its predictions. However, Miner (2005) notes that in field tests of this theory some economically deprived individuals were very productive despite inequity. A conclusion drawn was that economic motivation was greater than equity motivation in the case. This shows that the equity theory can be a limited theory which only centres on one type of motivation. Further the comparison to referent others is subjective, conclusions of equity or inequity are subjective as well, so is the choice of the referent other one uses for comparison (Milner 2005). These drawbacks should be noted by Starbucks management in applying this theory.

Goal Setting Theory

Rauch (2006) explains Locke’s goal setting theory as a proven theory in its assertion that specific and challenging goals improve work performance. Rollinson (2008) further explains that this goal directed effort is a function of goal acceptance and goal commitment which lead to what Locke terms Performance, aided by organisational support and the individual’s abilities. The goal setting theory states that where one’s performance leads to goal achievement, equitable rewards both intrinsic and extrinsic are expected and the rewards determine the level of the person’s eventual satisfaction (Rauch 2006). Using the goal setting theory would require the Starbucks management to make specific individual goals with their disaffected workforce with rewards attached to goal attainment. However, as Landy and Conte (2010) point out modern workplaces are usually organised to work in teams and this theory does not adequately address goal setting in team based workplaces. Another shortcoming of the Goal Setting theory is its appeal to drive employees to unethical practices so that they can appear to be achieving their goals (Landy and Conte 2010) Notwithstanding, Harris and Hartman (2002) point out that research into this theory generally support its assertions. Joint goal setting has indeed been shown to have a positive impact on employee performance in most cases (Harris and Hartman 2002). In the same vein, research also corroborates Locke’s assertion that specific goals with a reasonable level of difficulty often lead to higher employee performance (Harris and Hartman 2002).Recommendations on how the manager can maintain an efficient and productive workforce within the organisation.

Rollinson (2008:240) states that, “to address low motivation, the most common approach for the last decades has been through job-redesign” This section will dissect the possibility of employing this tool in the Starbucks scenario.

Job Re-Design

In the Starbucks case, a job re-design is one of the tools the management can employ to make the job more rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically. Following on from the discussed theories, Herzberg’s theory perhaps provides the most substantial content to inform job re-design as a motivational tool for the Starbucks management (Herzberg, 2003).

Herzberg states that a job needs to be designed so that the Two Factor theory’s motivators are built into the job (Herzberg, 2003). This process is commonly termed job enrichment (Rollinson, 2008). This encompasses horizontal job enlargement (more tasks) and vertical job enlargement (more responsibility).

Thus the Starbucks staff can have a role that stretches from receiving the inputs, informing on re-order levels, serving customers and being responsible for customer satisfaction for instance. Rollinson (2008) argues that this gives employees a feeling that that their job is meaningful and increases intrinsic motivation and satisfaction.

Notwithstanding the appeal of job enrichment, both Grant (2007) and Rollinson (2008) allude to the fact that results of all tests to this theory are mixed and one cannot make a clear conclusion. The main criticism remains that Job enrichment is built upon Herzberg’s two factor theory and individuals respond differently to an enriched job and not in a standard universal fashion as posited by the Two Factor theory and job enrichment. Not everyone wants an enriched job, some people prefer boring jobs as they pursue other meaningful activities outside work to cater for their needs (Rollinson 2008).

Relational Job Design for a Prosocial Difference

It can be argued that a frontline retail job at Starbucks lacks variety by its nature. Attempts to re-design it and enlarge it horizontally or vertically can be limited and fail due to simply being not much else that can be added to the required tasks. In this respect a different perspective to motivation may be required to maintain an efficient and productive workforce. Grant (2007) puts forward the notion of relational job design. Grant, (2007:393) puts this notion across as follows, “……existing research focuses on individual differences and the task structures of jobs ….. Relational architecture of jobs shapes the motivation to make a prosocial difference”. Grant (2007) advocates connecting employees to the impact they are having on the recipient of their efforts. The recipients can both be internal, like co-workers and management, or external such as customers. Grant (2007) points out that where individuals realise the difference their efforts are making in others’ lives they are motivated and perform better. Thus in Starbucks for instance, employees can be connected to coffee bean producers in developing countries who supply Starbucks coffee beans, and understand for themselves how their efforts are changing lives abroad. They can also be connected to the lonely people who sit and sip coffee in Starbucks and make relationships. Further, employees can be made a part of the corporate social responsibility programmes of the firm so that they can relate their efforts with its positive societal impact.


Several theories of motivation have been analysed in this paper and employed to inform management at Starbucks on how they can maintain an efficient and productive workforce.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs provide a useful framework for categorising needs of different types however its one-size fits all approach to motivation is questioned by scholars and practitioners alike and research has not fully corroborated its assertions.

The Two Factor theory has more appeal in the workplace due to the fact that Herzberg provided a clear way of how managers can employ it in practice. Research has also supported the theory somewhat. However it has been noted that what Herzberg classified as hygiene factors have worked as motivators to other people and vice versa. Therefore like Maslow’s theory, Herzberg’s theory has the problem of purporting to offer a universal application, which research disputes as inaccurate.

Joint goal setting has been supported by research and shown to positively impact on employee performance, however some academics point to the fact that the theory is getting obsolete as modern workplaces are organised into teams which are not addressed by the Goal setting theory.

The Equity theory informs management to consider fairness in both job design and remuneration. So that informal comparisons in the workplace do not lead to dissatisfaction. The theory is readily accepted for its simplicity and has held to its assertions in research. However it tends only to consider a single type of motivation-equity, at the expense of other motivation types like economic motivation which has been shown to be stronger than equity in some cases.

Tools put forward in this paper for maintaining a productive and efficient workforce are job enrichment and relational job redesign which takes focus off the tasks and connects employee with the impact of their work in the community for which Grant (2007) argues that people are motivated when they realise how their efforts are helping others.


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